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August 28, 2008
Each Friday, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans five things to keep an eye out for over the course of the weekend.
This week, though, we're pushing the feature up a day in honor of the start of the season. Next week, it returns to its usual Friday slot.
ARKANSAS' OFFENSE: Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick has struggled as a passer the past two seasons. Of course, the past two seasons he's also played in a run-oriented offense that featured tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. In new coach Bobby Petrino's system, can he be an effective quarterback and show that his problems were a byproduct of the previous system?
JAKE LOCKER AGAINST OREGON: In the late hours of Aug. 30, you may already be drunk with joy from the first Saturday of the season, but stay awake for one of the final games of the day. Washington's trip to Oregon not only will be critical for Tyrone Willingham's future and Oregon's prospects for 2008, it will be a pivotal game in Jake Locker's career. He could be the Pac-10's MVP, but only if he can beat Oregon's playmaking secondary. Locker was a force on the ground last year with 986 rushing yards, but he completed only 47 percent of his passes. The opener is an immediate test for Locker and a cast of youngsters around him. Oregon's starting secondary intercepted 17 passes last year, Nick Reed recorded 12 sacks and Autzen Stadium is the Pac-10's toughest venue. We'll find out in a hurry if Locker is ready to take the next step.
QUARTERBACKS AT CALIFORNIA, MICHIGAN, RUTGERS, TENNESSEE AND VIRGINIA TECH: Two are returning starters ? Rutgers' Mike Teel and Virginia Tech's Sean Glennon ? and the other three are new, but there are questions about all five. Given these teams' hopes this season, how the quarterbacks play this weekend bears watching. Teel won't have Ray Rice to lean on this season; can he win games with his arm? Glennon won't have Tyrod Taylor looking over his shoulder; will he thrive or wilt under the pressure? California's Kevin Riley beat out senior Nate Longshore ; is he the right guy to lead an offense breaking in a new tailback and looking to replace the four leading receivers? Tennessee's Jonathan Crompton takes over an experienced offense; can he limit his mistakes and get the ball to his playmakers? Finally, can the new guy at Michigan ? whether it be Nick Sheridan or Steven Threet or someone else ? get the job done in Rich Rodriguez's spread offense? Also worth asking: How patient are Wolverines fans going to be?
CLEMSON'S OFFENSIVE LINE: Much has been made that this is supposed to be Clemson's season. The Tigers seemingly have it all as they make a bid to win the school's first ACC title since 1991. While most pundits breathlessly gush about Clemson's abundant skill-position talent, most gloss over the teensy-weensy issue of Clemson breaking in four new starters on the offensive line. The lone returning starter is center Thomas Austin. Since 1965, the Tigers have had 13 seasons in which they have had to replace four line starters. And in those years, Clemson is just 79-66-4, though it did win ACC titles in 1982 and '86. It also has had four top-25 finishes in such seasons, the most recent coming in 2007. Still, the jury is out. While Alabama's front seven isn't a juggernaut, there's no doubt the unit will test the overhauled Clemson front.
IS ANOTHER DIVISION I-AA TEAM POISED FOR AN UPSET? Don't be fooled by some of the nondescript opening-week matchups featuring major-college powers against Division I-AA programs. Recent history suggests at least one of those I-AA upstarts will pull off an upset. Everybody remembers Appalachian State's 34-32 stunner over fifth-ranked Michigan last year, but the opening week of the 2006 season proved even more fruitful for I-AA programs. That season, we had three upsets in the opening week: Montana State over Colorado, Richmond over Duke and Portland State over New Mexico. Which Division I-AA program could make headlines this week? Appalachian State probably won't be the culprit. The Mountaineers capitalized on their unexpected speed advantage over Michigan last year, but they won't be able to outrun LSU. The presence of Ryan Perrilloux could give Jacksonville State a fighting chance against a Georgia Tech team adjusting to a new scheme on offense, but the former LSU quarterback may not have much time to throw against the Yellow Jackets' front four. Maryland shouldn't overlook Delaware, which lost first-round pick Joe Flacco but returns 14 other starters from the team that fell to Appalachian State in last year's Division I-AA championship game. But the I-AA team with the best shot of winning may be James Madison, which will try to spoil David Cutcliffe's debut at Duke. James Madison has 15 returning starters from an 8-4 team and is ranked third in the coaches' preseason I-AA poll.